Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Best Picture" Oscar Should Go To 'HIDDEN FiGURES' - But Likely Won't

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African-American NASA women compute orbital elements for John Glenn's mission in 'Hidden Figures'. It should win 'Best Picture' if Hollywood's navel grazers don't choose "La La Land"

"Self-regarding movies about the greatness and craziness and triumph and tragedy of those who make movies have become the new Oscar norm."  -   Andrew O'Herhir,, February 2015

Let us concede that in a sane world - which is emphatically not the one we inhabit right now- the superb 2016 film "Hidden Figures" would come away with most Academy Awards, including 'Best Picture'. The film had wide appeal across all demographics, and featured the little known but critical role of African -Americans in the NASA Manned Space Program. The movie basically highlights a little known facet that a team of African-American women - trained in high level 'rocket science' math- actually did the computations that put astronaut  John Glenn into successful orbit in February, 1962.  The women  (Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan) were referred to as "human computers" within NASA.

Not only was the film the best math-based movie to come along since "Good Will Hunting" and "A Beautiful Mind", but it also touched on the civil rights struggles of the 1960s - in conjunction with  the aspirations of talented African Americans. (A trenchant moment in the film occurs when one of the NASA women informs her boss (played by Kevin Costner): "There are no colored bathrooms in this building or any building outside the west campus - which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself'.)

Alas, competing for attention will be the vacuous Hollywood navel gazing confection called "La La Land" which one critic in LA Magazine described as a ho-hum musical with a basically plug and play role for Emma Stone ( "Mia" )  who yields most of the actual lines to her dancing mate "Sebastian"  played by Ryan Gosling. But as others noted, neither really hits the mark so one wonders what all the fuss is about.  Well, more LA -based navel grazing where the movie makers and actors, members of the Academy are more entranced by their own art than wonderful films of more general appeal.

The UK Guardian ('La La Land's Inevitable Oscar's Win Is A Disaster For Hollywood And For Us')basically summarizes my own view. And you'd think that with box office numbers tanking the past several years the Hollywood cognoscenti would get a clue and cease the navel gazing with their awards. But it doesn't seem so.

According to the Guardian:

"Rarely have the Oscars seen such a dead cert. If you fancy La La Land for best picture, the most attractive odds you will get are 9-2 on. The film is also nominated in another 13 categories, tying with Titanic and All About Eve for most ever nods. It has already snagged a record-breaking seven Golden Globes, and five Baftas.

Critics have been equally charmed. In Britain, the coveted five stars have been bestowed not just by the Sun, the Mirror and Metro, but also by the Guardian, the Times and the Telegraph. Audiences have followed suit. The film has taken more than 10 times its $30m (£24m) budget at the box office.
In such circumstances, you would expect a bit of a backlash, and a La La Land insurgency has duly kicked off.

The male lead, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, has been indicted for boorishness and insensitivity. When he is not whitesplaining jazz, he is mansplaining it to Emma Stone’s Mia. Both characters have been thought shallow, and chemistry between them has been found lacking. Technique has also been faulted. Gosling and Stone are no Fred and Ginger in the hoofing stakes, and their “reedy voices” have disappointed. For some, the narrative sags and the plot fails to convince"

That extended indictment ought to be enough to sink most films, but with too many airheads too smitten - probably just by the title - there may be little chance of  'Hidden Figures'  overtaking it.  Thus, I'd compare a win to the 2012 Best Picture Oscar that (seriously)went to the back and white, SILENT French film, "The Artist".   Another film endowed with more hype than genuine quality, imho.  As I wrote in my Feb. 19, 2012 post:

Here's the deal: as movie prices are now jacked up to the point that movie attendance has dropped off precipitously, and one must expect to shell out at least $25 for two, for the film plus just a diet coke and small popcorn, why would you pump and hump a silent black and white movie? Oh wait! I got it! To entice the elites to drool all over themselves at their impeccable "artistic" taste and refined perceptions ....which vastly exceed light years...the Philistine tastes of the hoi polloi, otherwise known as the "masses".

The Guardian goes on, again I concur totally:

"La La Land has been branded feeble, dull, flat, humorless, bloodless and unengaging. It has been called “disappointingly mediocre”In fact, these reactions can be traced to a deeper deficiency: the Oscar favorite is a fake movie.  Poke your finger through the sugary icing and you find no cake beneath – no heart, no soul, no joy, no warmth, no wonder.

To create the illusion of charm, the film relies not on intrinsic strengths but on external trappings"

SO, in a real way the film is kind of like the Trump presidency, all about trappings and no substance. No heft.   The there is the copycat of atmosphere aspect, i.e.:

"When Gosling hangs from a lamp-post, it is to tell you this is Singing in the Rain. West Side Story, Funny Face, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Shall We Dance, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and plenty of others are similarly appropriated. La La Land wants you to believe that it shares the joy, humour, tragedy and humanity of such celluloid treasures. It doesn’t."


"Mia is a cipher because she is just the prisoner of ambition. Seb sees himself as a heroic champion of art, but he is more of a nerd than a musician. For him, jazz is mainly fodder for his vanity and pomposity."

And lastly the biggest knockdown, reinforcing this pathetic flick is one for the Trump era of bigots, braggarts and narcissists:

"La La Land is a film for our time. With our self-nurturing, self-promotion, clicktivism, Twitterstorms, sexts and selfies, we are all narcissists now. This being so, many of us would kill to get into Seb or Mia’s shoes. .... Nonetheless, our descent into solipsism still carries with it lingering disquiet. La La Land helps us put this aside by spangling self-love with stardust.

It is easy to see why the Academy’s voters have embraced La La Land. Many of them will have followed a path all too similar to Seb and Mia’s. Seeing their life-choices vindicated by the witchcraft of their trade must have been something of a comfort. All the same, the best picture winners that stick in the memory, such as Schindler’s List, Gandhi, Chariots of Fire and Titanic, tend to extol humanity’s better nature, not its shortcomings."

Indeed. And if a genuinely worthy Best Picture candidate is available that extols humanity it is "Hidden Figures".  Sadly, the Hollywood navel gazers will be more focused on awarding the Oscar to a  mediocre musical that vaguely reflects their own acting paths. In where else? LA LA Land!

But some of these La La land people will never get it. Tom Hanks, who once planned a 13- part HBO series to vindicate the Warren Commission,  announced not long ago (Denver Post, p. 3E): "If people don't go out and embrace this wonderful film, we are all doomed!"  Seriously, Tom?  Personally, I think you're better served sticking to your Warren Commission Follies.

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